The leader of Northumberland County Council has condemned the latest financial settlement from central government, which will see the county facing a huge 80 per cent cut in funding.
The cut in the council’s main grant from central government by 2019/20 will see its core funding from central government reduce from £57million in this current year to £11.2 million by 2019/20. In 2013/14, the council received £90.5million from central government.
Since 2009, the council has had its budget cut by £160million. Further cuts of £44million in revenue are in the process of being implemented this year and next.
Following yesterday's settlement, Northumberland will receive the largest cut amongst its North East Combined Authority colleagues which has an average of 69 per cent and against a national average of 75 per cent.
Coun Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: "The Government seems determined to decimate local government. In this latest settlement we are seeing a staggering 80 per cent cut to our central government funding over the next five years – it’s unbelievable and another attack on rural areas. They expect us to make up the shortfall from council tax and business rates.
"Yet again local government has taken the bulk of the hit in the government's cuts. This can't go on. Already in Northumberland we are consulting on closing a fire station, have cut post-16 school transport and subsidised bus routes to make these unfair cuts and there are many more examples. These are not things we want to do, but we have been given no other choice by this government.
"We are doing our best to protect frontline services such as libraries and tourist information centres by co-locating them with other council services to significantly reduce costs whereas other local authorities have closed them all together. However there will soon be nothing left to cut. We are reaching the tipping point now where even the most vital and statutory services will be hit.
"In his autumn statement the Chancellor agreed that local authorities can put up council tax by two per cent for dedicated spend on social care seems. In Northumberland this would only just cover the increase in the living wage, whilst demand for social care is at an all-time high and we have to fund it through our ever decreasing revenue reserves. The need for social care will only increase, we are living longer and the older population is growing whilst the number of people of working age is falling. In Northumberland we have more older people than the national average which places even greater pressures on us."
In implementing the cuts, the county council has made a commitment to protecting frontline services. In many cases this is resulting in reductions and relocation of some services and increased charges in others rather than completely removing them. This includes reducing grass cutting, co-locating some libraries with other services rather than closing them, increased charges for some DIY waste and a review of public toilets.
As well as protecting frontline services by relocating them into other council buildings in the towns, the council is keeping services local and providing a one-stop shop for residents.
A new, much smaller and more cost effective council headquarters in Ashington will save £630,000 a year with more staff working in local towns, closer to residents.
Its regeneration strategy for the county is aimed at driving and encourage growth in all market towns. The programme is ultimately aimed at generating about £365million into the regional economy.
Since the government cuts in 2010, the council's workforce (excluding schools) has reduced by a fifth; shedding the equivalent of 843 full-time jobs.
Coun Davey said: "We are doing all we can to keep vital services; investing in town centres to kick start the local economy, generating jobs in the county, improving education and providing affordable housing. This is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve with such huge cuts in our budget. Our local opposition councillors are quick to criticise the council for implementing their government’s cuts but I don’t see them making the case for what they would do or calling for more money for the benefit of people Northumberland."